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Andy Wittry | | March 13, 2022

How to pick rematches in the NCAA tournament

Luke Maye's incredible shot to send UNC to the 2017 Final Four

Let's say you're filling out your NCAA tournament bracket and as you're penciling in the matchups all the way to the national championship game, you come across a game between Villanova and Texas, Gonzaga and Iowa, or Baylor and Illinois. You notice it's a rematch from a regular season matchup.

How should you weigh the result from the last time they played?

This scenario happens an average of three to four times per NCAA tournament. Should you pick the winner of the first meeting because that team has obviously proven it can beat that opponent? Or do you take your chances on the loser of the first game because you count on that team studying the film, making adjustments and getting revenge in the postseason?

Looking at previous NCAA tournaments, the data says you should choose the winner of the regular season matchup to also win in the tournament.

Since the 2008 NCAA tournament (excluding matchups in the First Four), there have been 41 NCAA tournament games between teams that played each other previously in the same season. In 37 of those instances, the two teams played just once prior to Selection Sunday and the winners of the first matchups are 25-12 (.676) in the rematch.

(There were four tournament games in the last 12 years between teams that had played twice in the regular season or in their conference tournament, and there were no trends to be found in those results. Take the 2019 season, for example, when Kentucky swept Auburn in the regular season, including a 27-point win at home, but the Tigers won in the Elite Eight.)

If we look even deeper into the data, you should be especially confident in the winner of the regular season matchup also winning in the tournament if the first game was a non-conference bout. The winner of a non-conference game that plays the same opponent in the NCAA tournament is 20-7 (.741) in the rematch in the last 12 seasons.

On the other hand, it's a toss-up if two conference foes play just once prior to Selection Sunday, then meet again in the tournament. Those rematches are split evenly at 5-5 in the NCAA tournament.

You might be asking yourself how much of a difference it makes to pick the correct winners in these rematches. Starting with the Round of 64, there are 63 games in the NCAA tournament, so how much of a difference could three or four games really make? 

Since the NCAA tournament selection committee does not schedule first round matchups between conference foes and tries to avoid regular-season rematches of non-conference teams in the first round, these rematches usually happen in the second or third weekend of the tournament. Three of the last 11 national championship games were rematches of a regular season matchup. In each case, the team that won the regular season game also won the rematch in the national title game.

So using this knowledge to help your picks in later rounds, when games are worth much more than the first two rounds, could make a huge difference in your bracket.

Here's a breakdown of when rematches of regular season games have occurred in the NCAA tournament in the last 12 years.

Round Number of Rematches
National championship 3
Final Four 7
Elite Eight 9
Sweet 16 10
Round of 32 8
Round of 64 4

Here is the complete list of NCAA tournament rematches in the last 12 years between teams that met once prior to Selection Sunday.

Season First Matchup NCAA Tournament Rematch Round
2019 Virginia Tech def. Duke, 77-72 Duke def. Virginia Tech, 75-73 Sweet 16
2019 Michigan State def. Minnesota, 79-55 Michigan State def. Minnesota, 70-50 Round of 32
2018 Gonzaga def. Ohio State, 86-59 Gonzaga def. Ohio State, 90-85 Round of 32
2018 Purdue def. Butler, 82-67 Purdue def. Butler, 76-73 Round of 32
2018 Duke def. Syracuse, 60-44 Duke def. Syracue, 69-65 Sweet 16
2017 Kentucky def. North Carolina, 103-100 North Carolina def. Kentucky, 75-73 Elite Eight
2017 UCLA def. Kentucky, 97-92 Kentucky def. UCLA, 86-75 Sweet 16
2017 USC def. SMU, 78-73 USC def. SMU, 66-65 Round of 64
2016 Oklahoma def. Villanova, 78-55 Villanova def. Oklahoma, 95-51 Final Four
2016 Virginia def. Syracuse, 73-65 Syracuse def. Virginia, 68-62 Elite Eight
2016 Duke def. Yale, 80-61 Duke def. Yale, 71-64 Round of 32
2015 Duke def. Wisconsin, 80-70 Duke def. Wisconsin, 68-63 National championship
2015 Duke def. Michigan State, 81-71 Duke def. Michigan State, 81-61 Final Four
2015 Gonzaga def. UCLA, 87-74 Gonzaga def. UCLA, 74-62 Sweet 16
2015 UCLA def. UAB, 88-76 UCLA def. UAB, 92-75 Round of 32
2015 NC State def. Louisville, 74-65 Louisville def. NC State, 75-65 Sweet 16
2014 UConn def. Florida, 65-64 UConn def. Florida, 63-53 Final Four
2014 Kentucky def. Louisville, 73-66 Kentucky def. Louisville, 74-69 Sweet 16
2014 Arizona def. San Diego State, 69-60 Arizona def. San Diego State, 70-64 Sweet 16
2014 Oregon def. BYU, 100-96 Oregon def. BYU, 87-68 Round of 64
2013 Duke def. Louisville, 76-71 Louisville def. Duke, 85-63 Elite Eight
2013 Marquette def. Syracuse, 74-71 Syracuse def. Marquette, 55-39 Elite Eight
2013 Butler def. Marquette, 72-71 Marquette def. Butler, 74-72 Round of 32
2013 UNLV def. California, 76-75 California def. UNLV, 64-61 Round of 64
2012 Kentucky def. Kansas, 75-65 Kentucky def. Kansas, 67-59 National championship
2012 Kansas def. Ohio State, 78-67 Kansas def. Ohio State, 64-62 Final Four
2012 Kentucky def. Louisville, 69-62 Kentucky def. Louisville, 69-61 Final Four
2012 Indiana def. Kentucky, 73-72 Kentucky def. Indiana, 102-90 Sweet 16
2011 UConn def. Kentucky, 84-67 UConn def. Kentucky, 56-55 Final Four
2011 UConn def. Cincinnati, 67-59 UConn def. Cincinnati, 69-58 Round of 32
2011 North Carolina def. Kentucky, 75-73 Kentucky def. North Carolina, 76-69 Elite Eight
2011 Marquette def. Syracuse, 76-70 Marquette def. Syracuse, 66-62 Round of 32
2010 Kansas State def. Xavier, 71-56 Kansas State def. Xavier, 101-96 Sweet 16
2009 North Carolina def. Michigan State, 98-63 North Carolina def. Michigan State, 89-72 National championship
2009 Michigan State def. Kansas, 75-62 Michigan State def. Kansas, 67-62 Sweet 16
2009 Louisville def. Morehead State, 79-41 Louisville def. Morehead State, 74-54 Round of 64
2009 Villanova def. Pittsburgh, 67-57 Villanova def. Pittsburgh, 78-76 Elite Eight

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